How Western (White) Beauty Standards Affect Ghanaian & Dominican Women

In Western societies, like America, there’s a strict Eurocentric beauty standard that is constantly reinforced every single day by mainstream media, which is dominated and controlled by the white demographic. Our society conditions us to think that the “all American” woman is thin, pale with blonde hair and blue eyes, which sends a harming message to women of color, who are the complete opposite of that image, and it damages their self esteem. For centuries, Western societies had placed white women on a very high pedestal as a way to reinforce a Eurocentric beauty standards and condition society to believe that white features are more superior and attractive than others, and today white woman are still very much placed on a high pedestal and represented more than other women (88% of the models in our country are white, white women win beauty pageants 90% of the time, white women make up for most of the actresses in Hollywood, etc), are mostly casted as the “beautiful woman” or “leading lady” in most of our movies, shows, videos, etc, and are given more media exposure than other women. Women of color are usually underrepresented, misrepresented and unacknowledged. The nonwhite women we do see on television usually are fair skinned with Eurocentric features, which is still reinforcing a Eurocentric beauty standard by not showing women of darker complexions and the ethnic features that makes them unique from the “norm”, and it’s these particular women who aren’t promoted as attractive and feminine, at lease nowhere near as much as the women of the dominant population, and this does a lot of damage to the self esteem of many young women of color.

Western media’s constant promotion of Eurocentric features as the standard of beauty and the definition of normal doesn’t just affect women of color in Western societies, but also has a negative effect on other ethnic women of color from most places across the world due to the powerful influence of western society over their countries. Due to white supremacy, historical colonization, and the strong influence of Westernized media, which is pretty much taking over most parts of the world (It is the most widely distributed and consumed media in the world), many countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Ghana, had taken in “whiteness” as the epitome of superiority, perfection and beauty. In countries like the Dominican Republic and Ghana, which are made up of nonwhite/black people (some even find it offensive to be labeled as “black”) that greatly values white features over their own, women are taught and conditioned by their own societies to hate their kinky/curly hair and rich brown complexions, and that in order to be feminine and beautiful they had to have light colored eyes, light skin, bone straight hair, and narrow noses, basically they had to be white or the closest thing to it.

According to the article,”Only My Hairstyler Knows” In the Dominican Republic, black women are institutionalized to think that their hair is “bad hair”, and that “good hair” is straight, silky hair (white people’s hair). In this country, Dominicans practically put white women on a high pedestal and consider them the epitome of beauty while considering their own black features, especially their hair, to be unattractive.

In the Dominican Republic, a woman is judged by the way she wears her hair, and whether or not people would see her as attractive or of a high status is determined by how she chooses to wear her hair. When women in the Dominican Republic choose to wear their hair in its natural state, they are perceived to be pathetic women who do not take care of themselves and do not care about their physical appearance. If a woman straightens her hair she would be respected and taken seriously, and she would basically have something a tiny bit similar to “white status”, but if she chooses not to straighten her hair, people would not respect her as much and not take her seriously, and she would be viewed as an unkempt woman of poor status, and treated like a second class citizen.

To avoid social stigmatization and being associated with “blackness’ (which in their country symbolizes uncivilization, unattractiveness and inferiority), many black Dominican women chemically straighten their kinky curls as a way to try to erase any trace of blackness from their physical appearance. Dominican women endure the pain and burns from the chemicals placed in their head so that they could have really straight hair, which would allow them to get jobs, be taken seriously, and also be seen as attractive by others. Dominican women straighten their hair as a way to be accepted by their society, instead of being ostracized.

In Badillo’s article, a woman had chosen to quit chemically straightening her hair and wear her hair naturally, and when she did, people’s attitudes had changed around her. Her mother did not want to be seen around her, people told her she would never find a man unless she went back to straightening her hair, and people started calling her “black” as if it was an insult. Her son had seen her hair in its natural state for the first time and made a comment about how he was unaware that she was “black”, and always thought she was “white” because of the way she usually wore her hair before going natural.

The woman was no longer ashamed to wear her hair naturally, showing pride in her roots and racial identity despite harsh judgments she kept receiving from others. This article kind of made me question myself for chemically straightening my own hair. Before, I never thought much of it and always felt like I was doing it to make my hair more easier to maintain, but after reading this article and doing so much research about the topics of African American hair, it made me wander should I go natural. I look at these Dominican women who chemically straighten their hair as a way to reject their blackness and I think poorly of them, but what does that say about myself? I consider myself to be a proud black woman, and I do not want others to see me in the same light as I see these women, and I do not want people to assume I hate my blackness, so I have been questioning myself about how I style my hair and am currently deciding whether I should go natural.

From reading this article, it seems as though Dominican women aren’t referred to as “black” in their society, unless they decide to wear their hair in its natural state, which clearly reminds them and mostly everyone else in that society that they are just as black as the Haitian population who they despise so much. It seems that as long as Dominican women chemically straighten their hair and try to look as white as possible, they won’t be seen by their society as having African blood, despite it being really obvious that they do judging from their physical features. Hair is one of the things that women can change, so if Dominican women can’t change their race, they could change their hair to try to erase their blackness and assimilate whiteness, although no matter what they do, they are still black…at least that’s how the rest of the world sees them.

In Jemima Pierre’s article, ‘I Like Your Skin Color!’ Skin Bleaching and Geographies of Race In Ghana, She explores the popular practice of skin bleaching in Ghanaian society by doing her research and conducting interviews with Ghanaian people who bleach their skin. Jemima speaks about the toxic ingredients used in skin bleaching products such as mercury, hydroquinone, as well as other poisonings. Long time use of skin bleaching products could cause serious health issues and could also result in to skin discoloration and could even give off a permanent odor, but despite the ugly possibilities of using these products, people still use them out of desperation for lighter skin. Al though all skin bleaching products are unsafe, the most effective kind are the expensive ones, which the poorer class of Ghanaian people cannot afford, so they use the cheaper brand of skin bleaching products or result to using actual household bleach (bleach used for clothing).

In the article, the author, Jemima, goes on to say that skin bleaching is a worldwide phenomenon that serves as a highly serious issue in most countries across the globe. Hydroquinone, a poisonous ingredient, was one of the most highly used ingredients in skin bleaching, as well as other cosmetic products. This ingredient caused so much damage and health issues to people, that it was banned in many countries. There have been worldwide effort to put an end to skin bleaching but it continues to be a serious epidemic. Amina Mire believes that the skin bleaching industry shares part of the blame for the skin bleaching epidemic that’s affecting societies worldwide. She explains that these industries are using their commercials and ads to reinforce white supremacy and promote the Eurocentric beauty standard, which influences people to hate their skin color, hair texture, etc and want a more “whiter” appearance. Also, one of the things I found interesting that the authors points out, is the difference between black and white beauty products. I find it interesting how beauty industries aim to create products for white women to look beautiful naturally, while promoting beauty products to black women that works to change their physical appearance, such as skin color (to make them lighter) and hair texture (to make their hair straighter/less kinky).

The author had interviewed a Ghanaian woman named Ema, who bleaches her skin everyday with multiple skin whitening products and even mixes some of them together. Ema is well aware of the dangers of skin bleaching but is still willing to take the risk in order to make her complexion whiter. When asked why she bleaches her skin, she said she does it because it makes her prettier, makes her stand out more and makes her more desirable in the eyes of men.

From reading this article, it seems that people of color bleach their skin due to self hate that stems from internalized racism which mainstream media, such as advertisements for skin bleaching, is mainly the blame. It seems to me that almost everybody in all places across the globe views whiteness as superior and more attractive, which is why skin bleaching is so popular around the world. Al though I have an idea why so many people are desperate to look as close to white as they possibly can, I just don’t understand why so many people want to have the same look. I think people of color have a certain uniqueness about them that’s not worth trying to erase to appear white.

White Feminism (Final Paper/Research Paper)

​Ever sense I could remember, there have been so much negativity associated with the label feminist. Last week, out of curiosity, I decided to ask many different women at Florida International University about their opinion about the feminist community and the reason why the word feminist seem to have so much negativity attached to it by society. The answers I received from the women varied depending on their race/ethnicity. The white women felt that feminism was just an avocation for gender equality, with a purpose to tear down a patriarchic society that privileges men over women. They felt that they needed the feminist community because it gives them hope that someday women would get equal pay, and would also be given the same opportunities and respect as men in our society. When asked why they thought the feminist label bring out so much negative reaction in people, many responded that it had a lot to do with males being afraid of losing their male privileges and their power over society, and that the women who hated the label suffered from internalized misogyny and would feel differently about feminism and would proudly start to embrace the label if they understood the true purpose of the movement. The women of color (black and Hispanic) had a completely different view on feminism and the reasons behind the negativity attached to its label. Most of them expressed that they felt excluded from the idea of feminism, and that the movement lacked intersectionality and focused mainly on cisgender, heterosexual, middle class, privileged white women. Al though many women of color agreed with the dictionary definition of feminism (that women should have equal opportunities and the same amount of respect as men), they dissociated themselves from the feminist label because of its negative history and it’s lack of basic intersectionality. Al though we are in the era of third wave feminism, which many self proclaimed feminists claim is aimed towards uniting all women of sisterhood by becoming more inclusive and intersectional, many women of color (myself included) still believe it isn’t as intersectional as it should be and is still pretty much exclusive to a lot of women who aren’t a part of the white demographic. Al though today’s feminism has came a long way from first and second way feminism, it is still highly focused on white women and is centered around their views on sexism, oppression, civilization and empowerment, and some women do not even realized this since we are conditioned to think that the experiences and general thoughts of white women represented all women, and by doing this we exclude the experiences of women of color which further oppresses them.

One thing I notice is that the women of color who actually choose to label themselves feminists, do so in a more specific fashion as a way to avoid being associated with mainstream feminism (white feminism). For example, many black women who label themselves “feminists” call themselves “black feminist”, and many Asian women may refer to themselves as “Asian Feminist”, this is done in a way to not be connected with white western feminism, which is seen to be looked at as the norm of what feminism is, which is why the term feminism is automatically thought of as white feminism, which is why many women of color don’t just call themselves feminist, but choose to be more specific in how they use the label. By looking at this, it seems clear that many women of color do not actually hate the label, but instead, hate its association with white feminism, a form of feminism that lacks intersectionality and has an imperialistic view of woman’s rights, it is sprinkled with white supremacy and white savorism. It is a form of feminism that does not take in to consideration the thoughts, opinions, and lifestyle of other women who aren’t white, and believes that nonwhite women (especially Muslim women) is in dire need to be “saved” from their “oppressive cultures” regardless of how these particular women feel about it. In this form of feminism, white women decides what’s oppressive to women and what’s not, what’s considered objectifying and what’s not, what’s considered a “woman’s issue” and whats not, who’s considered a feminist and who’s not, and they do this without even considering the views of other women. Basically, white feminism is treated as the voice of ALL women, but in reality it oppresses women and had been doing so for centuries. The fact that mainstream feminism and feminist discourse is shaped by the experiences and views of white women while women of color are completely invisible and unacknowledged, is an example of the privilege that comes with being white in western societies (white female privilege).

​The “feminist” label have been stigmatized and attached with so much negativity and hate, not only because of today’s mainstream feminism and its current lack of intersectionality, but mostly because of the negative history of the movement. Throughout history, white women have been oppressed in the sense that they were beneath white males, but privileged in the sense that they were above everyone else due to their white privilege in an era of complete white supremacy, colonization and imperialism. Feminism was born from white women who wanted white males to share their privileges with them so they could also have power and control over others. Feminism was originally about advocating for certain rights for white women and making them more equal to white men, and also about imposing white feminist ideology on women of color by trying to condition them to believe that the white woman’s way of doing things was the more sophisticated and civilized way. They believed that their parenting was better, their domesticity was better, and their culture was better and that people of color should follow their lead for a more “civilized” way of life. White feminist viewed women of color as their burden (white woman’s burden), and believed that it was their position to teach them the right way to be a woman, mother and wife, which formed an imperial relationship between white feminists and women of color.

In my essay, I would be analyzing a very interesting passage from the Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook book and exploring the different ways that the attitude and mindset of the author demonstrates white feminism (also referred to as Imperialist feminism) and oppresses women of color, how it reflects the mentality of many white women during that time period, and also how the history of white feminism is the reason behind the stigma of the word “feminist” and how the history affects how many women of color view the feminist community today.

​The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook book, was written by a white British woman who moved to India during the British colonization. The book serves as a guide for white female newlyweds who are having a difficult time trying to settle in an unfamiliar territory (India). The tone of the author reeks of white British female supremacy and is the epitome of a white imperial feminist mindset. The author views the Indian servants as child-like, barbaric, uncivilized people who are beneath the British, not only does she feels this way about the servants but the Indian natives in general. The author tries to educate the reader on how to “train” her servants in to being more civilized and obedient, and how important it is to condition the Indian servants in to believing that they are inferior to their “Madame” and the British in general.

​One of the most disturbing things about this book is how the author views the Indian servants as simple minded children, and speaks to the reader as if they have some type of paternalistic authority over Indian people. Her feelings about the Indian servants are expressed in this short passage from the book:

Certainly, there is at present very little to which we can appeal in the average Indian servant, but then, until it is implanted by training, there is very little sense of duty in a child; yet in some well regulated nurseries obedience is a foregone conclusion. The secret lies in making rules, and keeping them. The Indian servant is a child in everything save age, and should be treated as a child; that is to say, kindly, but with the greatest firmness. The Laws of the household should be those of Medes and Persians, and first faults should never go unpunished. By overlooking a first offense, we lose the only opportunity we have of preventing it becoming a habit.

The tone of this passage kind of reminds of a scene from the film “Cotton Mary”. One of the male servants were falsely accused of wrong doing, and Lily (the Madame) was working up the guts to fire him. Lily called the male servant over, and when he seen the miserable expression on her face, he became concerned and asked what was wrong. “Is everything okay Madame?”, he asked, which was in a child like tone very similar to “Is everything okay mommy?”. The woman shift uncomfortably, rubbed her temples, cleared her throat and said “No…Master and I are very upset”. Not sure if those were her exact words but she said something very similar of that nature. The way she said this was so paternalistic, as if she was speaking to a small child. The way she worded her sentences and the tone in her voice disturbed me because it felt as if she was saying, “No…Daddy and I are very upset”. It was as if she viewed this man as a child, and unfortunately he sort of acted as if he was her child during this scene, so he was sort of going along with it. The entire thing reminded of a mother showing great disappointment in her child for doing something that disgraced her, kind of like a mother telling her 8 year old son that he was grounded for being disobedient with a teacher at school.
​In this passage (as well as throughout the entire book) the author speaks to the reader in a very serious and straight forward fashion. Her words as well as her tone displays volumes of white supremacy, ethnocentrism, racism, bigotry and complete ignorance. In the first part of the passage:
“Certainly, there is at present very little to which we can appeal in the average Indian servant, but then, until it is implanted by training, there is very little sense of duty in a child; yet in some well regulated nurseries obedience is a foregone conclusion”.
she basically explains that training an Indian servant is going to be just as difficult and complicated as raising a child. It is like she is saying that molding Indian people to be the perfect servants for a British woman is similar to trying to raise a young toddler; it’s a lot of effort and hard work. She pretty much feels that until the Indian servants are trained by an “educated” European woman to do things by European standards (which she clearly views as the “cleaner” and “civilized” way), they will never do things the correct and appropriate way, and would mess up and destroy/damage things as if they were actual children. She believes that the Indian servants couldn’t possibly do their duties the proper way with out some really hard training from the British woman.
In the second part of the passage:
“The secret lies in making rules, and keeping them. The Indian servant is a child in everything save age, and should be treated as a child; that is to say, kindly, but with the greatest firmness. The Laws of the household should be those of Medes and Persians, and first faults should never go unpunished. By overlooking a first offense, we lose the only opportunity we have of preventing it becoming a habit.”
In this part of the passage, the author is telling the Madame that she should set rules for the Indian servants and be very strict with them about it. She should make sure they follow her rules, and not give them second chances if they make simple mistakes. If they make mistakes they should be punished. A few pages in to the book, we find that one of the author’s recommended punishments for Indian servants who get out of line or don’t follow orders, is to make them swallow spoon fills of Castor Oil in front of new coming servants and guests. She finds this very funny and see it as a way to humiliate them and also as a way to remind them of who’s in charge. This punishment was a very popular way that the British discipline their children, and sense the Indian servants were seen as children, this form of discipline was used on them as well.

The author’s white supremacy and ethnocentric attitude clearly had a lot to do with how she viewed the servants, which was why she thought so poorly of them but shown more respect towards her white servant, which were referred to in the book as a Mary Jane. The Mary Jane is trusted and respected by the Madame, while the Indian servants are seen as filthy, simple minded children who can’t do anything right without the guidance of a white British woman. The Indian servants have to be trained a certain way while the Mary Jane does not have to be trained at all. The fact that the white servant is given a name and is also more trusted and respected by the Madame, displays white feminism. The Madame feels as though that only another white woman could do as good as a job as her when it comes to domestic work, while nonwhites (in this case, Indian servants) need to be trained and treated as if they were children. . I believe the author viewed the Indian servants as children for the simple fact that she believed that their race, as well as their culture, made them inferior to her. She viewed their way of life and their way of doing things as uncivilized and stupid, simply because it wasn’t the British way of doing things.

In this book, it seems as though the author tried to sound as articulate as possible and also tried to make her intelligence show through her writing. In western societies, the more educated you show yourself to be, the more respect you gain from others, and the more power you have over people who do not have your level of education Many times in the book, the author mentions how educated the reader is (without even knowing the type of women reading this book) as a way to make them feel as though they are above the Indian servants. The author clearly feels as though the intelligence of a white British woman was more superior than the intelligence of the Indian people. To the author, the British women were sophisticated and intellectual and the Indian people lacked basic education and knowledge, basically having the mind and intelligence of really young children, and therefore needed the British woman to guide them and teach them the proper way of things.

It seems clear to me that the author, as well as many other British women in India during that time period, had oppressed their Indian servants not only because they thought the Indian people were inferior to them, but also because they wanted to finally be the ones in power over a group of people in the same way that white males had power of them. Al though white women had privileges over women and men of color, they were oppressed in several ways by white males. When these women came in to India, they finally had some form of power and authority over people in the same way that white males had power and authority over them. White feminists, like the author of this book, believed that they should hold power over the Indian people because their whiteness made them just as superior as white males. The author treats her Indian servants very poorly because she wants them to feel inferior, and view her as perfection. She seems to believe that the more inferior you treat a group of people, the more they’ll admire you and want to be like you, and this would cause them to listen to you, give you authority over them, and this kind of have some truth to it since imperialism/colonization had left a lot of women of color in many different countries wanting to be white.
​The author’s attitude toward the Indian servants reflects how most of the white women viewed Indian people as well as other people of color. Many white women felt as though the Indian culture was full of uncivilized, ignorant, barbaric people, and felt as though it was their moral duty to “do the right thing for the children and the women”. In the early 1900s, members of the WNIA, a white woman’s reform organization, had gotten together and discussed whether or not it was a good idea to remove Indian American children from their homes and place them in to institutions where they could be raised the “more proper and correct way” by white women. While these women were having this discussion, they did not consider even thinking about involving Indian American mothers in to this conversation, which had a lot to do with them viewing the Indian women as uncivilized, child-like people who weren’t mature or intelligent enough to be involved in conversations concerning their own children. Soon, the WNIA made the decision to remove young Indian American children from their mothers’, placing them institutions where white women raised them and taught them how to be “proper” and “civilized”. This example is just one of a many ways that white feminists made decisions on behalf of women of color without involving these women in the conversation, which oppressed women of color. One of the issues with white feminism/imperial feminism is that they see themselves as doing what was best for women of color, as if women of color were incapable of deciding what was best for themselves.

In the beginning of the article, Imperial Fantasies: Mourning The Loss of Empire In The Novels of Penelope Lively and Ruth Prawar Jhabvala, the author mentions Burton’s views on the imperial relationship between British suffragettes and Indian women. Burton argues that British suffragettes felt as though it was their moral duty to “save” Indian women from a culture that they felt was oppressive to women. I think that in reality many white feminists felt the need to save women from their culture without actually stopping to think of whether these women felt that they needed to be saved for anything. These women felt as though they knew what was best for Indian women, and acted as though Indian women were just silent children who did not know what was best for themselves, which was insulting and disturbing.

​In another part of the article, the author focuses on the relationship between white women and Indian women from the novels Heat & Dust. The main character, Olivia, does not have the same approach to Indian culture as most other Imperial feminists, instead she tries to defend the Indian women’s culture. Through this novel, you can tell that the author is an imperialist feminist based on how she narrates the story. She makes the Olivia character the voice of Indian women as if they couldn’t speak for themselves.

White feminism/Imperialist feminism oppressed women of color because it did not include them in discussions about decisions that would specifically affect them as women. It oppressed them because white imperialist feminism did all that they could to change practices in their culture and to impose their cultural beliefs on them because they felt that their culture was the epitome of civilization. They also promoted a white female supremacists ideology in their form of feminism.
​The mindset of the author in the Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook book is similar to the mindset of many white imperialist feminist, who felt that they knew what was best for nonwhite women, and made political decisions on their behalf without even including them in the conversation (for example, the removal of Indian American children from their mothers). ​Due to western feminism’s negative history and the way it treated women of color, many women of color choose to not label themselves as feminists and do not want to be associated with the feminist community although they believe in gender equality. They do not want any part of something that oppressed them or their ancestors throughout history instead of helped them.

​Many people say that the history of western feminism was a long time ago, and we should not reject the label or frown down on the feminist community, but in reality, many of today’s feminists still share the same mindset of the imperial feminists from the first and second wave feminism in the sense that their idea of feminism lacks intersectionality, and they also try to speak on behalf of other women instead of just including them in the conversation. For example, I was talking about police brutality with a white woman in one of classes who self identified as a feminist. I was basically telling her that black males are disproportionately murdered by cops over petty crimes, when she interrupted me just to say, “But yea, well, that’s a different subject, but when is society going to start taking seriously issues that affect us as women?”. Annoyed I told her, “well, last time I checked I am black before I am a woman in this society, and I have a black father, black brothers, black uncles, black grandfather, and they are 21x more likely than anybody in this country to be racially profiled and gunned down by racist cops and negative stereotypes are more likely to be used on them to justify their murders, and as a black woman it affects me because I love them and I do not think this is right. It also affects me because I am actually afraid to have a son, because I know I would be worried about him every second of the day (regardless of his age because young black children are more likely to be brutalized by cops as well) because people who are suppose to PROTECT him would most likely choose to murder him or harm him over ridiculous reasons”. I also explained to her that it also affects me because as a black woman I am far more likely (statistically) than any other group of women in this country to be racially profiled and wrongfully murdered by cops. It is women like her in the feminist community who think that issues that doesn’t affect white women does not affect women at all, and therefore isn’t a serious issue for women. Western feminism is still a little white centered, and I hope we could make progress on that some day to include other women in the conversation, especially when it comes to popular feminist organizations as well as political feminism.

“Act Like a Respectable Lady!!”

In India, during the 1940s, Chughtai Lismat had published a short story called “Lihaf”, which gained alot of popularity, as well as notoriety for it’s sexual messages. During this time period, it was very taboo for a woman to express her sexuality in writing or in any other form. Lihaf is a erotic tale that explores the sexual homoerotic relationship between a woman (Begum Jaan) and her maid (Rabbi) through the eyes of a young girl, who narrates the story with the mind of a young, naive child. The narrator’s aunt, Begun Jaan, is in a oppressive marriage to a man who’s often not home, and spends most of his time hanging out with attractive young boys. Al though her husband is rarely ever home and fails at being a good husband, he forbids Beguun Jann from having a social life, and she is forced to spend all of her time at home as if she was a piece of furniture. Begum Jaan seeks companionship with one of her favorite maids, Rabbi, and becomes romantically involved with her. Begum Jaan often shares her room with the narrator during the night, and the narrator would often wake up in the middle of the night frightened by the loud moans and the wild, rough movement of the blanket on her aunt’s side of the bed. Due to the narrator’s innocence, she is very clueless of what’s going on, and thinks the moans she hears are angry voices arguing with eachother and that theres an elephant wrestling under her aunt’s covers, when in reality the blanket is shaking because Begum Jaan and her maid are under it having sex.

Like Rashid Jahan, Chughtai Lismat received alot of hatred for her story, and was actually sued because of it. Many had advised her to apologize for the story to avoid the lawsuit, but Chughati went against apologizing for her story, because she believed that she shouldn’t be restricted from writing about certain topics just for being a woman, she believed that there shouldnt be any control over what women should or shouldn’t write about. Chughtai had prevailed in the lawsuit because al though the story focused on lesbianism and sexuality through hidden messages, there weren’t any sexual or obscene words being used.

During their legal dispute, the plaintiff had made a remark, “a respectable woman does not write such things”. Al though saying things like this was the norm back then, and unfortunately still is today, I find it annoying and disturbing. I’m a woman of 2015, and I often get told to “act like a respectable lady” or “Respectable women do not do the things you are doing” whenever I express myself sexually through poetry, whenever I wear clothes that people feel are too revealing, whenever I express my anger, etc, and yet, men are never told to “act like a respectable young man” whenever they do the same things I just listed. I think the “respectable lady” is an image of a woman that the patriarchy views as the ideal woman, which is a woman that’s quiet without opinions, submit to men, and do not express herself in a way that she truly wants, and allow men to own and control her sexuality instead of owning and controlling it herself. I think the “act like a respectable lady” response is just another way of saying, “Stop expressing yourself, and just be what society expects from you as a woman!”

Snakes

In class, we are currently reading a very interesting book called Crooked Line, which tells the life of a young woman in India by the name of Shaman, starting from the day of her birth through her adulthood. One of the things I noticed in this book is it’s constant mentioning of snakes. In this book, I think snakes are very symbolic for temptation, karma and evilness.

As a young child, Shaman had a deep love for dirt. Everyday, Manjhu would bathe her, and wash and style her hair, and made her promise to stay clean for the entire day and stay away from dirt, she’d even threaten her with violence if even one strand of hair was out of place. Despite Manjhu’s threats and Shaman’s promises, she disobeyed Majhu and played in the dirt anyways, messing up her nicely styled hair and soiling her freshly washed clothes, which lead to Manjhu being hysterically angry and Shaman being beaten. Despite the beatings, Shaman would still disobey Manjhu after every shower by continuing to play with dirt and make herself filthy. Shaman really wanted to obey her sister but she just couldn’t stay away from the dirt, and also could not stop eating it. She just loved the way it made her feel and it was one of the things that she really enjoyed playing with and eating. Due to her constantly eating dirt, she developed worms in her stomach, which lead her in to becoming really ill. Al though the doctor had informed her and her family that she had worms, Shaman did not believe the doctor and was certain that a snake was inside of her belly, not worms. Al though, Shaman was sick due to dirt consumption, she still could not stay away from dirt and she continued to play in it, al though she never ate it again. In this scene, I think the snake that Shaman thought was in her belly symbolized temptation. Shaman knew that she would be punished if she continued to eat and play in dirt, but she could not resist temptation, and because she didn’t resist temptation and continued to disobeyed her sister, she developed worms. I think the author is basically trying to say that the things that we crave are not always good for you and could cause damage. In other words, she’s saying that there’s consequences when you don’t resist temptation.

In another scene, snakes are mentioned again. In this scene, Shaman locks Fatima up in the prayer’s room, leaving her there scared and alone, abandoning her while she walked back to their room. Fatima had stayed there all night, and was not released until morning, when the Matron and the students went there for prayer session. Shaman had done this because she had a strong animosity towards Fatima, who was in love with her and practically obsessed over her. Shaman had no desire for Fatima, and the thought of being with her in any romantic way literally made her physically ill to the point of vomiting. In this scene, after Shaman had betrayed Fatima, the narrator saids, “She felt like she had crushed the head of a menacing serpent with a stone and now the serpent lay writhing while life ebbed from it. In this case, the head of the menacing serpent was Fatima’s heart (her love for Shaman), which was causing her to be an obsessive, annoying person towards Shaman, causing Shaman to despise her. Shaman wanted to crush the head of the menacing snake, meaning, Shaman wanted to crush Fatima’s heart so Fatima would no longer have romantic feelings for her and no longer annoy her by trying to pursue her, which was why she treated her poorly and locked her up in the prayer room. The narrator goes on to say, “They say if you kill a serpent, its mate seeks vengeance. But after Fatima was gone, there was no female serpent to be afraid of”. Shaman did not feel bad for mistreating Fatima, but a part of her worried that vengeance will occur some type of way, or that something horrible was going to happen in response to her crushing the menacing head of the serpent (Fatima’s heart). Later, Shaman experienced karma for crushing Fatima’s heart by having her own heart crushed by Najma. Shaman had obsessed over Najma the same way Fatima obsessed over her. Shaman’s heart was a serpent that caused her to be obsessive over Najma, just like Fatima’s heart was a serpent that caused her to be obsessive over Shaman. Shaman’s heart was the head of a serpent that got crushed by Najma in the same way that Fatima’s heart was the head of a serpent that got crushed by Shaman. The vengeance of the serpent (Fatima’s heart) was karma.

Later on in chapter 16, Shaman and her friend Bilquis referred to men as Koriyale. When Shaman looks this word up in the dictionary after hearing Bilquis mention it, she finds that the definition of it is a very poisonous black and white snake. I find this very interesting and thought very hard about why the author had chosen for the characters to refer to men as Koriyale, poisonous snakes, but I am not sure if my interpretation is correct. I haven’t read the entire book, so I assume that men are referred to as Koriyale (poisonous snakes), to represent misery and unhappiness of heterosexual marriage. I think the author is trying to imply that men are poisonous because they bring misery once you marry them, and they are snakes because they are evil since they only want to marry women to own them.

 

 

 

 

Mary’s “blackness”

Today in class, we watched a film titled Cotton Mary. The film was basically about a medium brown complected Indian woman who rejected everything about her Indian heritage/culture and desperately craved white status. She worked as a nurse at a hospital but soon quit her well paying job to be a servant for a white British woman and a nanny to her child. The film took place in the 1950s during the British colonization in India. What has always been clear to me was the fact that white supremacy had an awful affect in both, the Black American culture and the Indian culture. As I watched the film, I realized that Mary’s mindset and inferiority complex to whiteness was no different from that of African American women in western society during that time period. In this week’s blog post, I will be explaining the two scenes from the film that I found very interesting, and also relatable to the black experience during that time period in America, which was considered the Jim Crow era. I will also be explaining how Mary’s niece affair with the married white British man was sort of similar to many of the relationships between Congo women and the white Belgian men during that time period in Congo

In one of the scenes, Mary makes her way in to a beauty salon wearing Lilly Mckintosh’s clothes (without any permission from Lily) and pushing her baby in a stroller. She also had groceries with her that she bought from the food market. Inside one of her grocery bags, there was tongue meat wrapped in news paper, which brought a pungent odor into the salon. The white British women in the salon recognized her and notices that she’s wearing Lily’s clothing and jewelry, they speak badly about her and clearly thought Lily had lost her mind for allowing an Indian native borrow her beautiful, expensive clothes (they did not know Mary did not have permission). The entire thing reminds me of a bunch of mean/bratty teenaged girls in a high school cafeteria gossiping about another girl, and basically speaking about how much better they are compared to her. While the women were speaking amongst themselves about Mary and the odor from the tongue meat, she hears them, and for the first time in this film she stands up to the snobbish attitude of these women, despite the fact that she clearly still feels inferior to them. “I am just like you, my father was British just like you!” she said, angrily trying to convince them that she was just as white as them. She gets the tongue (not sure what animal it’s from), which she only bought because of how expensive it was, (she said that Johnny likes it, but I really don’t believe she actually bought it for him) and throws it at them. The white women were grossed out by the smell and yelled in disgust as if Mary just threw feces on them instead of food. Mary throws the money at the tongue, and said something along the lines of “money doesn’t make it stink anymore”. Before she stormed out of the salon, she said, “You think you are better than me because I’m black”. When Mary said that, she sound really emotionally beaten and so fed up with being mistreated by the British.

In that scene, Mary had dressed up in “white British women’s” clothes, had “white British people’s money”, and was there at the salon hoping to get a “white British woman’s hairstyle”, and during that moment she was feeling “white” and enjoying the feeling of whiteness, until she came across the white British women and they reminded her that she’s NOT white nor British, and that she’s Indian and beneath them. Mary had thrown money at them as if money would some how convince these people that she’s white, but money doesn’t change race. Mary’s frustration and annoyance with the British women in this scene is sort of similar to how black Americans had felt towards white Americans during this time period (1950s). No matter how hard they worked, how much money they earned, how intelligent they were, they were still constantly reminded that they would never be nothing more than the N word and that they weren’t as worthy as white people enough to be respected. Like Mary, they could throw all the money in the world in front of these people and still be treated as if they were beneath them.

The other part of the movie I found interesting was Johnny’s infatuation with Mary’s niece, possibly because she was “exotic” to him. He basically cheats on his wife with Mary’s niece (I don’t remember her name!) and uses her for sex. During one of their sexual acts, she somehow brings up the fact that his kid was being breast fed by a complete stranger, he tosses this woman aside as if she was a hooker and just left her there as if she was nothing. Seeing the way he tossed her like garbage actually angered me in a way, because NO woman deserves that. He basically treated this girl like a disposable object. Their affair was interesting because the same way Mary’s niece was sexually objectified and degraded by Johnny was sort of similar to how many Congo women were sexually objectified and degraded by Belgian men.

The same way white British men colonized India and had affairs with the Native Indian women, was the same way the white Belgian men colonized Congo and had affairs with the African women, leading to PLENTY of illegitimate biracial children that were either left fatherless (like Mary’s absent British father) or were sent to stay with their father in Belgium attending a school for biracial children. I am currently reading a book for my Anthropology of Race & Ethnicity class called Problematizing Blackness by Jean Muteba Rahier (he is a product of an affair between a Congo woman and a Belgian man), and chapter 6 focuses on the relationships between the Belgian colonizers and the Congo women. Here’s a distasteful/degrading song from this chapter of the book called The Female Nigger. The song was made during the 1920s era, telling the story about a relationship between a Belgian man and a Congo woman, translated in English, the song is:

Everybody here notoriously ridicules

The black woman who is not esteemed,

However many are satisfied with her . . .

When young, she is charming bait

At night, a white or black cat is grey

And even the smartest one swallows the bait.

Little by little we get used to

This woman of a dark color . . .

It seems as if you finally know her

her complexion stops scaring you.

You even find her attractive,

black color, in fact, suits her well.

After three years, the moment arrives

When the white man must go back home,

His hidden sorrow is often deep;

for the black woman, she is not surprised.

She mentally counts and counts again

The money left that she’ll enjoy.

 

Like the native women in India, black women in America were conditioned to think that “white was right” due to white supremacy having power over their societies. They were subconsciously conditioned to believe that everything that’s the opposite of white was ugly, unnormal, uncivilized and even stupid. Like Mary, black women tried to achieve white status in some type of way, whether it was skin bleaching, passing as white (this usually was the case with biracial women who looked phenotypically white), cosmetic surgery to look more Eurocentric, rejecting their culture and African foots, etc. Like the Indian community, black people had an inferior complex to whites because they’d been pretty much made to feel like whites were superior to them for no reason other then the simple fact that they were white. Al though today it’s 2015, white privilege still exists, and many people of color still believe the idea that “white is right”, which is why many black women and Indian women face so much colorism from their own communities. When you look at the Indian community and the black community, theres a thing we have in common, and thats our diversity in skin color. The sad thing about it is, instead of us embracing our different skin tones (pitch black, dark brown, medium brown, fair skin), we uplift and praise the lighter skinned women but degrade and belittle the darker skinned women and I think white supremacy and the entire “white is right” idea has alot to do with that. We need to realize that all colors are beautiful and embrace our diversity as women of color.

 

March17/Part 2 “The Duties of The Mistress” (The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook). I HATE THIS AUTHOR

 The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook was pretty much written to guide inexperienced, newly wed white British women on how to get situated in the unfamiliar territory of India so that they could be good housewives. I personally dreaded every second of reading this book and absolutely hated the authors arrogant tone, which was clearly sprinkled with white female supremacy. The book was loaded with racism against the Natives of India, ignorance and ethnocentrism. I tried to get over my annoyance with the author’s tone so that I could have the strength to continue reading this book, but to be honest, I hated every minute of it.

In the first chapter of the book, the author is explaining the role and duties of the mistress while at the same time expressing how important it is that she belittle and degrade the servants. In her eyes, the mistress is a brilliant, educated European woman and the servants are beneath her due to the simple fact that they are Indians and also servants. According to her, regardless of age, the Indian servants are simple minded children and should be treated as such, the author even goes as far as advising the mistress to punish the servants with castor oil whenever they did something wrong, which was a punishment that parents used on small children. Since these are grown adults and this lady is not their mother, it’s completely humiliating and degrading. She expresses that the book would come in handy to whip them up in shape and mold them into good little servants who do every thing she tells them to do. The author tells the reader that she should not lift a finger to do anything and let the servants handle all the domestic duties around the house, that the only time she should do any type of domestic work is when she is showing them how to do something the “proper” way. The author goes on to say that if a servant catches the mistress doing any chores or cleaning anything, the servant would lose respect for her and no longer see her as a powerful figure. Basically, the author wants the servant to know that he/she is beneath the mistress in every way possible and that she is too good to be doing the type of work they were meant to do. I also found it HILARIOUS when she mentioned how servants could be lazy and shiftless, when the mistress pretty much paid a bunch of servants to do simple tasks that she could have done herself. If anyone’s lazy, it’s women like this author, since they feel the need to pay servants to do their dirty work rather than simply doing it themselves. You can’t call someone lazy when your advice to someone is “Never do work which an ordinary good servant ought to be able to do. If the one you have will not or cannot do it, get another who can”. She also explains how a “good mistress should always set a good example to her servants in routine, method and tidiness” as if she is some how a role model to these people, when they are just their to do their jobs and feed their families. I feel as though if these servants are so dirty and unclean, why not do these things yourself? I feel like this certain “demographic” of women during this era only had servants so they could have someone to boss around and feel superior to.

The mistress pretty much does nothing but give out orders to the servants, direct them, and also try to strip them away from their Indian culture by trying to control their lives by imposing her own European culture on them by forcing them to learn and speak her language and dress in European clothing. In a way, I feel like this European woman is no better than the European men who tried to strip the Africans away from their culture by changing their names and shaving their heads. In no way shape or form am I trying to say that both experiences of the Indian servants and the African slaves are the same (because they clearly aren’t), I am saying that this woman’s attitude is sort of similar to the men in her race/ethnic group’s attitude in the fact that she is trying to impose her own culture on a group of people, and I believe if it were up to those women, they would have made these servants in to their slaves and treated them just as harshly as the white men did the African men and women during slavery.

One of the things I hated most about this book is when the author had the nerve to give little FAKE, RIDICULOUS feminist type speeches every once in awhile through out this book, such as “The result being that the lives of educated women are wasted in doing the work on lazy servants”, I also hate the way she throws around the word “woman” as if she was speaking about women in general, when she clearly was not speaking about “women” but simply women in her own demographic, which were middle class, white and privileged females. Whenever she said “women” she was NOT speaking about native Indian women but women that look like her. She is not a feminist despite the fact that she clearly seem to think she’s an advocate or voice for women some how, because last time I checked most of the servants in India were Indian but also WOMEN (Indian women) as well, and she treated them like dirt as if they weren’t women at all. This is exactly why I had second thoughts about this class, because I did not have a desire to read about racist/clueless women like this who mistreated and oppressed women of other races, but at the same time I’m glad I decided to go along with this class anyways because I learned a lot (which is why I hadn’t dropped it) and Professor Dhar is a great educator and I enjoy being in her class.

March 17/Part 1″Some Like It Hot: Class, Gender and Empire”

The soup, Mulligatawny, traces back in to the British residence in India during the 19th century, and the history of the soup shows the relationship and attitude that the British had with the Natives of India.The story of the Mulligatawny soup could be told to explain how it represented the divide between the British and the Indian Natives, as well as the British upper class and the British lower class during the 19th century. According to the author of the article, Some Like It Hot: Class, Gender and Empire, “the rise and fall of the popularity of mulligatawny, its adoption and rejection, its asynchronous though linked histories in Britain and in India, serve as the barometer for measuring British attitudes towards India”.  Before Mulligatawny was a soup, it was a sauce that the Native Indians created themselves to put on food. Soon, it was turned in to a house made soup by the British immigrants of India. The soup was soon sold in Britain and was marked as “Indian” food, it was sold in “Indian” restaurants as well as sold in cans in the “Indian” section at local grocery stores. Al though the Mulligatawny sauce is associated with Indian culture, the soup is not an “Indian” dish at all, but is really Anglo Indian or simply the westernized idea of Indian food. There is no set in stone way to make this soup, it’s highly versatile, meaning any type of recipe could be applied, but there are certain recipes for this soup that are more popular and common.  

In these sections of the article,  “Colonial Cook Books” and “Chef of the 19th century”, Modhumita Roy, the author, mentions a few highly famous chefs and cook book authors during that era, who shared their own special recipes for Mulligatawny soup. In India, the Mulligatawny soup was once popular among the British community in India, but soon it became unpopular because it was thought of as being too much associated with the Native Indian culture. This was not the case In England, where the soup was incredibly popular. Flora Steel, the author of The Complete Indian and Housekeeper Cook Book, mentions a recipe for the soup in her book, labeling them as “Native Dishes”. Steele clearly did not care too much about this soup and claims that someone “requested” them to her, she basically saids it as if she was doing someone a favor instead of doing it because she actually wanted to. Unlike popular British Mulligatawny recipes, which has more of a Indian touch to the flavor (since the entire idea of the soup is for it to be an “Indian” dish), Steele does not add curry or any type of seasoning nor recipe that would bring too much traditional Indian flavor in to the soup. She makes the soup as westernized as possible and even give it a European/French name. By doing this, she basically “Europeanized” the soup, taking the Indian touch a way from it. Europeanizing the soup was pretty much her way of rejecting the Indian culture. She clearly does not want anything to do with anything that’s associated with the Native Indians, even something as small as food. She also pretty much implied that her way of making the soup was better than the Indian way of making it, and she basically felt like the European way of doing things was the more sophisticated way of doing things, even when it comes to making something as simple as basic soup.

 

 

Cranfordism!

According to the article, The Scraps, Patches, and Rags of Daily Life, Cranford was one of Gaskell’s favorite novels that she’s written, and it was the only one of her novels that she had read several times for her own enjoyment. During her life time, whenever she was feeling upset, sad or even physically sick, she would read her favorite book, Cranford, and it always brought her back up to high spirits. Gaskell loves this novel so much that she even went as far as name her cat after the fictional town, which is also the title of the book (Cranford). In a letter she had written to a friend, John Ruskin, she uses the term “Cranfordism” to explain the eccentricity of the elderly townswomen of Cranford. An example of “cranfordism” is when one of the characters of the novel, Matilda Jenkins, tries forcing her cat to vomit in order to get her lace back after he swallows it. Further in her letters, she speaks about how a couple in her hometown tried to teach a young maid to jump over spots in order to not soil their carpet, this type of behavior could be seen as “cranfordism” due to its weirdness, and also because it sounds like something one of the characters in Cranford would do. The article goes on to explain the transformation of Cranford towards the end of the novel, as it is no longer this isolated place from the outside world, since the outside world has now made it’s way inside of Cranford, introducing a different society and culture into these women’s lives that they would eventually conform to. The town has become more industrial and most of the new people who have moved to the town are of higher economic class, which brings a change in social status to these women. The women in this town who were struggling in poverty but manage to keep up a high status based on the economic status of their late fathers and dead husbands, are now forced to face reality of their situation, which is the fact that they are poor and that they are not of a higher status, atlease not anymore. The article explains that the new townsmen have made the town more industrialized and more suited and beneficial for them. Cranford is no longer an isolated town for these women, and it is now a suburban town with many men and new people. The author explains that the town is not really a comfort zone for these women anymore and that they pretty much loss their town to men.

A Woman’s Independence

In the Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, Cranford, we are introduced to a town that’s dominated and operated by unmarried (spinsters) and widowed women. Since there were barely any men present, these women weren’t pressured to marry, have children or care about their physical appearance, which gave these women a certain freedom and power that they definitely would not have had if they lived in the patriarchic world outside of their little town. In this town, women are in power and in control of their lives and their decisions. This proud independence that women had in Cranford, was definitely not the social norm during that time period, where women were expected to marry men, depend on men, submit to men, have children by men, and spend their entire lives taking care of men and tending to their every needs, while the men had full control of the lives of women.

As I read through chapter one, I was happy to see that these women were so independent and in control of their lives, which is something that I admire in every woman, al though I believe that the women in Cranford only had this independence because they weren’t being dominated by men (since there were barely any that lived in their town), which meant that they weren’t being oppressed by the patriarchy that existed outside of their small town, which pressured them to be submissive and dependent. These women did not have to “find a man” to marry and take care of, which gave these women the freedom to have more time to themselves and do whatever they wanted, which were things they may not have had time to do had they been too busy submitting to their husbands and tending to their children.

In class, we had a discussion about whether or not women are still pressured when it came to marriage and children. I think that al though mainstream media and society still promotes marriage and the nuclear family image, women aren’t as pressured as much as they once were, at lease not as much by society from what I’ve noticed. But how a woman feels when it comes to marriage, children, men and even how she sees herself as a woman has a lot to do with her relationship with her family. Some women are pressured by their family to get married for different reasons, either to give their parents grandchildren, to be financially taken care of, to be happy, etc. Women’s relationships with their families’ shapes the way they view the marriage life and their role as women (society also has some part in this as well). The women in my family have often preached how beautiful marriage could be with the right men, but that the most important thing ever was for a woman to have her independence, either with or without a husband. My mother always told me, “Be with a man because you WANT him, not because you NEED him. A woman doesn’t NEED a man, if anything a man NEEDS a woman”. Those were words I would hear her say over and over again whenever the topic about men and marriage came up. I’m a black woman (I take great pride in everything about my race/culture/heritage), and in my culture, a strong/independent woman is highly praised, which is basically a woman who takes care of herself and do not make herself dependent or needy to men in any sort of way. She demands the same respect as men, and do not take any nonsense from them either.

 

 

 

Fanny’s Experiences Was NOT The Same As Slavery

Today in class, many of the other students spent most of the period ridiculously comparing Fanny’s experiences of sexism and classism from the hands of the Bertrand’s family to that of the terrible realities of slavery. Honestly, as a black woman of color who had female ancestors who were forced into slavery, it sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I personally could not see any connection with Fanny to any sort of slavery. Al though she was treated as inferior by her own family members because of her parent’s lower economic status, she still had freedom and choices, which set her completely a part from female slaves, since slaves were people who didn’t have any freedom, and who were legally forbidden from making any choices on their own about anything, they were not even given choices when it came to their health, their children, their bodies, their well being, etc, but as a woman of the white race during an era of complete white supremacy, Fanny was privileged to have all of those things, which was why it was hard for me to understand how some of the other students could even put this woman and slavery in the same sentence.

Al though Fanny came from a poor household during her younger years as a child, she still had many privileges that weren’t afforded to women of color who were forced in to slavery. Unlike slave women, Fanny had the privilege to be able to be taught how to read and write without fear of being subjected to cruel punishment, since it wasn’t illegal for her as a white woman to educate herself to prevent her from becoming ignorant. Actual female slaves, on the other hand, were lynched or severely beaten if they did so much as to stare inside of a book. Al though Fanny wasn’t as educated as her wealthy cousins, she was educated enough to read and spell. Things as simple as reading and spelling her own name was perfectly legal for her, and she was free to gain as much knowledge as she pleased, which was not the case for slaves.

In my eyes, Fanny does not have any sort of life similarities of a slave woman, infact, she, along with other white women during that era, had it a lot better than women of slavery, since as a woman of the white population, she had more rights, freedom, respect, and protection, which was something that was not given to black female slaves, who lacked any rights, freedom, or protection against rapes and attacks. Black women were constantly degraded and made to feel inferior to white men AND white women. In my opinion, Fanny, like most white women of her time, even had it better than black males. White women like Fanny were oppressed to some degree for being women but they still had possessed more power than women and men of color during that era. While Fanny is oppressed to a certain extent for being born a woman, she still has freedom and privileges that were not given to black women of slavery nor black men of slavery, who weren’t even considered to be fully human by white society during that time period.

Al though Fanny was treated as a domestic servant by the people in her household and was viewed by them as an inferior being due to her economic background, she does not represent slavery in any way at all, and I do no think Austen was trying to paint her as one to the reader nor do I believe that Austen was trying to make a connection between the way Fanny was treated by the Bertrands and the hardships of slavery. I believe that comparing white female oppression to the oppression of female slaves is like comparing the female oppression of German women to that of the oppression of Jews during the Holocaust era, it’s simply not the same thing at all since the German women were treated much better and were given privileges, as well respect, while the Jewish slaves in the labor camps were completely disrespected, degraded and treated like animals.